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Regardless, cervicogenic headaches are just as common and just as painful as any other headache, though the symptoms, causes, and treatment are slightly different.
Patients often describe a cervicogenic headache as a dull pain that radiates from the lower neck to the back of the head. From here, it may spread to the forehead, temples and surround the eyes. Doctors refer to cervicogenic headaches as secondary headaches. It occurs when underlying pain elsewhere is felt in the head. Common causes of cervicogenic headaches are an injury, trauma, spine damage, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and certain types of infections.
Though a cervicogenic headache will eventually produce pain in the skull area, it begins with neck pain. Different conditions based in the neck area can cause this type of headache, such as:
A prolapsed disc in the neck
Trauma in the neck area, such as a sports injury
A pinched nerve in or near the neck
More often than not, poor posture causes headaches and neck pain.
For instance, if you are someone who sits at a desk for most of the day, or someone who drives for long periods of time like a mailman or a diesel driver, you may unconsciously push your chin forward, holding your head in front of your body. This position is called cervical protraction, and it places the weight of your entire skull solely on your neck. Sitting or standing like this for long periods of time can place too much strain on the muscles in your neck, causing uncomfortable neck pain, and eventually a cervicogenic headache.
Falling asleep in an awkward position, like with your head to one side, can have the same effect. This can happen if you fall asleep in a chair, or while sitting up in bed.
The most common symptoms of a cervicogenic headache are, obviously, head pain, which is usually described as throbbing or pulsing. Neck pain is another common symptom. Other symptoms include:
Pain around the eyes-Cervicogenic headaches can also often mimic the symptoms of a migraine, such as light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, or blurry vision.
Pain originating at the back of the neck and radiating along the forehead
Pain along the shoulder
Reduced flexibility of the neck
Pain while coughing or sneezing
Pain Radiating to Other Areas of the Body
Pain on one side of the head or face
If left untreated, cervicogenic headaches can become recurrent, and rapidly grow to debilitating levels. But there are multiple techniques to manage the symptoms, as well as preventative measures you can take to stave off future cervicogenic headaches.
To confirm that your headache is cervicogenic in nature, a doctor may apply pressure to various points on your neck. Your doctor may also move your head into various positions to determine which if any particular movement provokes neck pain and a headache. If pressure on the neck or any one position of the neck provokes a headache, this means that the headache is cervicogenic.
Cervicogenic (CGH) pain often starts in the neck. Patients commonly describe this as a dull ache that may worsen with certain types of postures, similar to a “crick”. CGH pain is also typically worse on one side, but with worsening conditions can move to the other side, as well. This type of pain may lead to neck stiffness and temporarily limits the range of motion.
Headaches without neck pain can also occur with cervicogenic headaches. When this happens, the source may not cause neck pain but will cause the neck to be sore. Sudden head movements or pressure on the back of the neck will still trigger CGH.
Unfortunately, not all cervicogenic headaches can be treated. Cervicogenic headaches that result from osteoarthritis, for instance, can usually only be managed with some of the alternative relaxation therapies listed above, and not treated.
However, there are general preventative measures regarding cervicogenic headaches. For instance:
The outlook for cervicogenic headaches varies greatly, depending on the underlying neck condition. However, by consulting a doctor, it is entirely possible to manage your pain and maintain an active lifestyle.
Manual therapy involves manipulation and joint mobilization for CGH. In this method. procedures are focused around massage, physical therapy or other types of manipulation. When combined with exercise, manual therapy has shown to provide great outcomes. Spinal manipulative therapy may relieve pain by relieving some of the pressure from the joints and thus, improving nerve function.
Transcutaneous electrotherapy technique involves a device that produces a very low voltage electric current to stimulate the nerves. Dr. Rodrigues passes electric currents through electrodes via sticky pads in the localized pain areas. This treatment is meant to stimulate the sensory nerves, and it is possible to control the frequency of the current in order to suit individual needs.
The IASTM technique involves an assessment into the deeper layers of tissues to identify restrictions within these tissues. This is performed using handheld instruments and running the affected area using different but specific massage techniques. These restrictions may form due to the development of scar tissue, fibrous muscle tissue, chronic inflammation or degeneration. Once Dr. Rodriguez identifies the restrictions, he then mobilizes them by gently pulling or stretching with the help of special instruments that use traction force.
Inflammation tends to be at the bottom of a cervicogenic headache, and if this is the case: inflammation in the muscles, nerves, tendons, or joints in the neck area. Dr. Rodriguez may prescribe an oral over the counter medication to reduce inflammation, or to help manage pain. Some of these include:
Aspirin or ibuprofen
Dr. Rodriguez may choose to prescribe medications used for tension-type headaches, migraines, or neuralgias, otherwise known as nerve pain, to review cervicogenic headache pain. Some of the commonly used medications for CGH are:
While these medications do not cure CGH, they may provide enough relief to help the patient comply during therapy sessions, such as manual therapy or other rehabilitation programs.
Sometimes, neck pain that stems from muscle imbalance, bad postures, etc. may be treated with special therapeutic exercises that focus on stretching and strengthening the neck muscle and surrounding muscles. Dr. Rodriguez may design a program specifically for your case.
If your doctor believes that your neck pain and cervicogenic headaches originate from weak muscles in the neck, physical therapy may be their solution of choice. Physical therapy can strengthen those weak muscles and improve mobility in the joints.
Some alternative therapies may include chiropractic therapy, massage therapy, or acupuncture to lessen nerve and joint pain in the neck area.
Other options for managing pain include:
If your cervicogenic headaches originate with nerve compression or a pinched nerve, there are some rare cases where spinal surgery may be needed. This is, however, incredibly uncommon, and Dr. Rodrigues only uses this as a last resort when all other remedies have failed.
More likely, your doctor may treat a cervicogenic headache with a nerve block. A nerve block involves a numbing agent or a corticosteroid being injected into the nerves in the back of the head or the neck. Dr. Rodriguez also sometimes uses this as a diagnostic procedure; if a nerve block stops a cervicogenic headache, this confirms a problem with the nerves in the back of your head or neck.
Don’t let cervicogenic headaches and neck pain stop you from living your life. Dr. Rodriguez and his team at the Pain Relief Center are dedicated to the eradication of pain. Contact The Pain Relief Center today for more information about cervicogenic headaches and neck pain.
The most critical step on the path to recovery is finding a pain management doctor who can address your pain management needs successfully. The Pain Relief Center and its five specialized institutes are dedicated to meeting any and all of a patient’s needs. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Dr. Rodriguez and his friendly staff will help you along the path to recovery.
Our new center in Dallas is part of a nationwide development by Pain Relief Centers, geared to providing individualized and comprehensive healing and pain management services with unprecedented levels of compassion, care, and comfort for each patient.